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The following article was in today's print version of the NZ paper "The Press" and "The Waikato Times Weekend" which takes a look at whether actors can make great politicians (or not). The headline in the "The Press" was Xena, Warrior Of the House and the headline for "The Waikato Times Weekend" was "Political Roles Beckon".



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Xena, Warrior of the House

It can only be a matter of time before a New Zealand actor becomes a major political figure, and I am not talking about Lockwood Smith. Got to thinking about this when I was reading about Lucy Lawless and Robyn Malcolm putting in a well-publicised appearance in the anti-mining demonstration in Auckland last weekend. Lucy, Robyn and even Keisha CastleHughes have taken quite public stances on issues and could well be cementing their positions as activist thespians with political futures. It's obviously a big step to standing for office but you can see the groundwork being laid.

So far, New Zealand has been spared this overseas phenomenon of well-known actors forging political careers. It’s easy to reel off a raft of big-name actors in the United States, for instance, who have gone on to be political figures. Names like Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Sonny Bono, Al Franken and Fred Thompson show acting can be the warmup act for the big job. India’s Bollywood stars are almost guaranteed a successful career in politics once their dancing days are over and a pretty actress in Italy can just about walk into a Silvio Berlusconi cabinet, especially if she has appeared in a few risque films.

New Zealand tends to follow the more buttoned-down democracy model of Britain, where I can think of only one famous actor who made a name for herself in politics and that was Labour MP Glenda Jackson. The reason I remember her is because of a scene with George Segal in the 1973 film in which she appeared wearing a bikini and plastered in suntan oil.

The obvious and rather cruel thing to say at this point is that actors are convincing liars and should therefore be natural politicians. But I don’t believe most politicians are liars – they just don’t usually tell us what they really think. It’s a bizarre thing, but even though we want our politicians to be honest, direct and straight with us, when they try that approach, they generally become unelectable. Gordon Brown, for instance, was being straight-up when he called a supporter a ‘‘bigoted woman’’ in an unscripted moment leading up to the British election this week. As we now know, the sky fell in. In fact, politicians, if they are to survive, need to be able to act a little bit.

While actors have many natural advantages in politics, including being comfortable in the limelight and being able to play to the audience, they also have some major drawbacks to overcome. Although acting is indisputably a challenging and skilled profession, it is difficult to take it seriously. Not for nothing do many actors talk about getting ‘‘a real job’’. Acting is essentially a frivolous activity and actors must bridge the gap between their job and the real world.

It certainly helps if the actor has a solid past of playing military heroes and world leaders.

But once they have had to shed their clothes on the big screen, which we know they do only for scenes crucial to the plot, they do risk credibility in any other profession. A background appearing in popular advertisements can also spell death for political ambitions.

An associated issue is the difficulty of separating the actor from the roles they played. Let’s call this the ‘‘suntan oil’’ effect. For instance it’s difficult to look at someone like Temuera Morrison and not think about his Jake the Muss character from Could we really take Jake the Muss, sorry, Morrison seriously as, say, aMinister of Maori Affairs? Lucy Lawless is obviously an intelligent woman but if she was in full swing in Parliament, perhaps as the opposition justice spokeswoman, wouldn’t you instantly think of a scene from Xena or even worse, a scene from her naughty new series, Spartacus Blood and Sand?

Another disadvantage would be the ever-present question mark hanging over their sincerity. Imagine one of those TV leaders’ debates. Even if the actorpolitician seemed sincere and spoke beautifully, we would all be saying it was because they were actors.

Anyway, we need to start to get our heads around New Zealand actors occupying the political firmament. Selecting our candidates is difficult because so few New Zealand actors are household names. However, I think we can all agree Sam Neill would make a great prime minister, although, after his Kiwibank ads, he would probably have to be one with lefty stripes. Robyn Malcolm, with her Westie experience, would make a superb social welfare minister and I can see Keisha Castle-Hughes as a potential leader of the Green Party. Cliff Curtis has done enough, I think, to earn his badge as a minister of police.

I could go on, especially if I could think of some more instantly recognisable actors. Suffice to say that when that first actor declares their candidacy, remember you heard it here first.

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